Book reviews by Mobilism's Book Review team
Jul 10th, 2017, 4:41 pm

TITLE: Defiant Unto Death (Master of War #2)
AUTHOR: David Gilman
GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHED: February 12th 2015
RATING: ★★★★★

MOBILISM LINK: Master of War: Defiant Unto Death by David Gilman

David Gilman is not an author I’m familiar with, never having read any of his books before this series, even though this book series has been on my to read list for some time. For some reason I had it in mind that I would not like the writing style of this author, which seems a little lightweight, or the narrative not being particularly well researched. I was wrong, very wrong.

This is the second book in the Master of War series which starts with the title book of the series: Master of War. If you’ve not read that book, I urge you to do so before reading this one as it sets the background for the book being reviewed here. Given this review is of the sequel to the first book, spoilers occur by necessity; please bear that fact in mind whilst reading this review, and preferably read the first book before reading this review.

The wounds of war still bled.
The greatest army in Christendom had been slaughtered ten years earlier at Crécy, when Thomas Blackstone and his fellow archers stood their ground and rained death on knight and horse, prince and commoner. It was from that squalid field of death that Blackstone had risen, fought hand to hand and saved the English King’s son. Dragged from the blood-soaked mud, the badly wounded Blackstone had been given the last sacrament and honoured by his King. There was no greater accolade than to be knighted in battle and Sir Thomas Blackstone’s broken body withstood its agony and eluded the dark mantle of death.

So the book begins. It’s 10 years since the cream of the French nobility were slaughtered at the hands of the common English archer and the French were defeated at the Battle of Crécy in the midst of the bloody and brutal 100 Years War between England and France. The English archer Thomas Blackstone is knighted on the field of battle for saving the life of the King’s son—Edward of Woodstock, the Prince of Wales, otherwise known as the Black Prince. Having recovered from his almost mortal wounds at the hands of his future wife under the protection of her guardians—a notable Lord of Norman aristocracy, Blackstone carves out his own niche as a warlord in the war-ravaged countryside of France, with his own family, warriors, peasants and towns under his protection, taken and held in the name of King Edward.

Blackstone’s warband, raiding and plundering large swathes of France, creates for him a notorious and feared reputation and the taking of a particularly strategic castle brings him to the attention of the King of France. He soon becomes France’s most hunted and wanted man. The King’s trusted advisor, Simon Bucy plots Blackstone’s destruction and unleashes a most vile and evil creature that goes by the name of The Savage Priest to do his dirty work for him and hunt him down across the bloodied fields of France. Blackstone holds something dear that the Savage Priest covets…

The Savage Priest’s pursuit of Blackstone and his vengeful vendetta against him, whilst forming the main thread of the story, is interwoven between the savagery and pitched battles that culminates in the battle of Poiter. Here, a heavily outnumbered English army led by the Black Prince manouevers the pursuing French army into a battleground of their choosing and this time defeats them without the benefit of English archers due to the sheer lack of arrows. The English archer, the longtime scourge of the French nobility plays a reduced role in this battle than some of the more notable ones such as Crécy or Agincourt, which makes the success at Poiters so much more poignant. The English can defeat the French without archers.

I confess to being fascinated by the 100 Years War. A war between two countries with divided loyalties on both sides of the conflict, with French siding with the English and vice versa. David Gilham does an astonishing job of bringing this violent and brutal period of history alive. Mixing imagination with meticulous research he weaves fact with fiction, real with fictional characters to create a very real and brutal worldscape where he overlays the adrenalin-fueled action that grips you from the very first page. Sir Thomas Blackstone is a reluctant and flawed hero forged from the very heat of battle, yet his brutality and ruthlessness are tempered with a compassion and morality that toys and plays with the readers’ emotions.

To say this book impressed me would be an understatement. I really wasn’t expecting such a beautifully written, emotional roller-coaster of a ride from an author relatively unknown in the historical fiction world. To think this is only his second book in his first historical fiction series is simply astounding. The writing is of such quality that you would think the author had been writing this genre all his life.

Those that read my reviews will be familiar with my passion for dialogue and how this can make or break a historical fiction book—it’s so important, more so in my opinion than the descriptive narrative in creating atmosphere and for scene-setting. You have to believe you’re there. You have to believe you’re observing and witnessing the events being described; otherwise the illusion being created by the words shatters like glass. I loved the way the author used the royal we, pluralis majestatis or majestic plural when describing the Prince of Wales’ dialogue, not I, we, not my, our:

‘We will not be shamed into battle. You will not speak to your Prince with such insolence ever again. It is not for you to know what lies in our mind, Blackstone,’ he said.

The royal we, or magestic plural, pluralis majestatis is the use of a plural pronoun to refer to a person, mostly of royalty, often a sovereign or monarch but not limited to royalty holding high office. People using pluralis majestatis refer to themselves using a plural or dual grammatical form rather than the singular. When the Prince states ‘We will not be shamed into battle…’ he’s referring to himself, and not the army that he leads.

The Prince of Wales hesitated, and then turned on his heel and headed for the cardinals. The Earls followed after looking uncomprehendingly at the rogue knight.
Killbere paused before turning from the pavilion. ‘Sweet Jesus, Thomas – still defiant unto death!’

Absolutely defiant unto death!

Terrific! A right rollicking roller-coaster of a read! Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the 100 Years War or anyone who simply enjoys a beautifully crafted, emotion fueled historical fiction journey.
Jul 10th, 2017, 4:41 pm